For the petrol heads out there click here for pictures of what served as my home for much of the summer in Alaska & North West Canada and carried me approximately 16000 miles with a damage report that consisted of only two broken windshields, two broken antennas, a couple of snapped struts on the swing-out rear tire carrier and a few minor bumps underneath suffered in the “Maze” at Canyonlands, Utah. The vehicle is currently resting while being fitted with a new front bumper, winch, suspension mods, front and rear lockers and anything else that comes to mind before the next trip! Click Slee Offroad for more information on all the upgrades that have been made.
Leaving Beaver Creek I crossed back into the US/Alaska at Port of Alcan feeling that I had really arrived given that Skagway and Haines are not connected to the rest of Alaska by road without passing through Canada. However, my sense of arrival in Alaska made me feel somewhat complacent with respect to distances. Everything after all was still a long way away! After reaching Tok, the only town you have to pass through whichever way you enter Alaska by road from Canada, I headed SW on the Tok Cutoff Highway to Slana where I made the 80 mile or so side trip along Nabesna Rd through the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve. I need to make sure I don’t start taking the spectacular scenery for granted. Back to Slana and continuing SW I passed through Gakona where I would need to turn north on the Richardson Highway to Paxson in order to reach the eastern end of the unpaved Denali highway. I continued on to Glenallen where I refueled and given the wonderful evening light headed back north to Paxson turning onto the Denali Highway for the first time. It was now after 11.00PM and after stopping a couple of times to take in the late light views I stopped at the Tangle Lakes campground which lies shortly before the second highest highway pass in Alaska, MacLaren Summit, the highest being on the Dalton Highway on which I expect to be traveling in a few weeks time. As with previous campgrounds I was one of only a few braving the early season. In this case there appeared to be one other tent although a French couple appeared to have registered at the entry point earlier. In actuality it wasn’t as cold as the 2 nights I had spent camping in Colorado earlier in the month and at least the wind was calm compared to the pass at Summit Lake in Canada.
Leaving Skagway behind at 7.00AM I watched the humpback whales spouting in the harbour from the deck. Unfortunately they barely emerged from the water hence no picture. There were now 4 newly arrived cruise ships docked at Skagway. A number of my fellow passengers were on their way to various adventures in different parts of Alaska their activities hinted at by the various equipment carried by their vehicles.
What a contrast Haines was to Skagway. The town that turned down the cruise ships may have paid the price in terms of the ‘spick and span’ effect but perhaps it has been left with more substance. Its real. On reflection, Haines is to Skagway as Crested Butte is to Aspen. North to the eagle preserve where more than 3000 bald eagles gather during the October to Dec late salmon run. That must be a tremendous spectacle. Today I was told there are a couple hundred pairs or so in the preserve. During my time there I spotted half or dozen far away on their lofty perches. Even with a long telephoto lens they were still tiny in the frame. This is a place that would certainly be worth visiting for a few days during autumn.
Onward and a long drive through more spectacular Yukon country stopping the night at Beaver Creek just before the Alaskan border. This Beaver Creek is very different from the one in Colorado! As with many of the roadside service towns it is only just awaking from its winter slumber – the restaurant there was opening for the first day of the season and staff had arrived from various parts of Canada for their summer stint. The lodge/restaurant/campground staff here have their own “hotel” because they are only here for the summer months. I quoted hotel because from what they told me about the standard of their accommodation hotel is probably not an apt description!